By Pamela DURANT, traveling mother of a young type 1 child.
Pamela Durant has traveled accross 4 continents with her type 1 diabetic young son. She’s revealing us all of her tips and tricks to be traveling with a type 1 diabetic child. You can learn more about her and her actions to support the diabetic community in her bio at the end of this article.
As I write this, I have visited over 20 different countries across four continents with my son. He was diagnosed with Type1 Diabetes at 20-months old. Before he was born, travel was always a big deal for my husband, and me. And after our son was born, we knew that our love of travel and learning from those journeys should not change just because we had a child.
“I have visited over 20 different countries across four continents with my son.”
But when diabetes came into our lives, that idea was challenged.
He was so small. Even now, eight years later, when I meet someone with a child that young, I pause. And of course at diagnosis, I had so many questions. How would I ever be sure that he was safe and nothing would go wrong? How would he grow up as a child with diabetes? Was he even allowed to do all the things that we consider “normal”, like play sports and travel?
HALF WAY AROUND THE WORLD 2 MONTHS AFTER THE DIAGNOSIS
Our very first trip was a long one – half way around the world two months after his diagnosis. At that time, we could not find a doctor where we lived who was specialized in Type 1 Diabetes. I am happy to say that this environment has changed drastically since that time, but back then if we wanted to learn more, we had to look abroad.
After some research, we headed back to the US to a children’s hospital where I was educated by some of the best diabetes experts. Making this journey forced me to face my fear of travel with a child with Type 1 Diabetes. Even though our first travel experience was to seek medical advice that did not make it easier.
PLAN A, PLAN B, PLAN C!
Despite obtaining all the new information we were armed with and an insulin pump, returning back home was still incredibly stressful. And if I am honest, for the first few trips, every time I started to pack our bags to travel somewhere, I would have a certain level of fear as I tried to remember “everything”. I would try to predict everything so I could pack for my Plan A and have several back up plans in place in case Plan A, or the supplies within my Plan A were not enough or got lost. I had a plan and supplies for a Plan B and even a Plan C! It was mentally exhausting.
That initial trip was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to face my fear. Had I waited, it would have likely taken me much longer to decide to start traveling again.
As stressful as the preparation felt, travel was something that still brought a lot of joy and happiness into our lives. The good news is, the more you do it, the more confident you will become and the easier it will get!
So travelling. Let’s first start with what is in my bag. Or should I say, what is NOT in my bag?
When packing for a trip with a small child, it seems there are so many things to take. I was relived after we passed the toddler phase and no longer needed to worry about diapers, baby food and all the other little bits and pieces to travel with. That in addition to diabetes supplies was quite the bag.
On a daily basis, diabetes does not always need that much stuff outside of the backpack we carry around town, but when we travel, we do take more to try to be as prepared as possible.So what’s in that luggage? Some of the major things include:
I always take more insertion sites than I need. And even back up for the back up. There will be those times when for whatever strange reason, you will miss and the cannula will not go quite in, so you might find yourself inserting another one, or two. It is rare, but I when it happens, you do not want to be without supplies.
Not everyone may use a pump with tubes, which is great. Just whatever type of pump you use, make sure you have enough supplies for the number of days you will travel plus more.
I carry one extra one in the event that the thing that you use to insert your CGM or pump with breaks, you have a back up.
Either the urine strips or those that measure from a glucose meter. Whatever you have is good. These are priceless. In the event that a Type 1 gets sick and you have to go to a hospital, having these may save you hours. You can check for keytones right away, whereas foreign facilities may not be able to. You may have to wait hours for a lab test.
Extra glucose meters in case something gets lost. I often have one in my carry on and one in the checked luggage. I do not suggest going out and purchasing new meters. If you have any extras that you received at diagnosis as we did, this is the best use I have found for those extra meters.
Probably more lancets than I will ever need in my carry on and others packed in different luggages.
If you use insulin pump and/or glucose sensors, bring your favorite medical tape to help secure the sites while swimming or walking around hot, humid climates. One trick I have learned on the way is that after swimming in salt water, I find it helps to rinse the insertion site with fresh water right away. Otherwise it is difficult to remove the cover and put the pump back on. I assume this is the salt making it stick a bit.
This is in the event of an insulin pump failure, or lost insulin pump. I found this most useful once in the days before insulin pumps were waterproof. The rest is a long story.
Obviously. I always take one glucogen in my carry-on, and at least one back up in another carry-on. For the hand luggage items, I always think worst-case scenario. If it gets stolen in an airport, I need a back up in another carry-on.
A letter from your doctor about all the supplies that you carry – even mention the food, and juice. Most airport security staff has never asked for this, but a few do. And if they are flustered at the site of all that stuff in your bag, pull that letter out and you might just be on your way more quickly.
You can download a diabetes travel letter template right here. Ask your doctor to fill it out for you.
When my son was smaller, we used to treat low blood sugar with juice. We still do that, but in order to make security scanning easier, and less annoying, I try to not bring any liquid (except insulin) if at all possible. On the airplane, I typically use candy to treat a low. Not chocolate, but something that is pure sugar. I will sometimes buy juice at the gate after security if I feel we might need it.
I do put juice in our checked luggage to have in the hotel and sometimes with us when we are out and about. I have two types of juice boxes – one that is a higher carb (i.e. 22g) and another that is a healthier low carb juice (12-14g). I bring two different ones and use them depending on how low the low is. I do not pack so many because you can buy juice boxes in most places at a local market, and that is also just more weight in your luggage you may not want. I take enough for about two days just so I do not have to run out to the market in the middle of the night or first thing the morning after arrival to our destination.
This usually consists of some of my son’s “go to” snacks that are around 15 carbs or so. Once we are settled, we encourage fresh fruits and vegetable snacks whenever possible. Since this is not always possible when on the go, we are prepared with what we know works for us. I find this especially important for smaller children who can be picky eaters. Bring what you know they like!
This could be in the form of a bar, or a small box of cereal. When we travel, my son is typically an early riser. A person with diabetes cannot always wait for breakfast to open up at a new destination. With jet lag and everything else, I’ll give my son a light breakfast or snack in the room if needed. Again, I prefer to bring our own snacks, as hotel mini bars are usually full of things that would not classify as healthy snacks or breakfast.
Some kind of hydration drink, or the powder equivalent is even better. In the event of dehydration and vomiting, it can come in handy. I carry a pediatric hydration drink in powder form. If needed, you can mix it with water easily.
I also try to buy a bottle or two of water near the gate after security to take on the plane. Hydration is important, and especially if blood sugars start to run high.
In the event of a stomach virus, bad food or other nausea, this can be helpful.
I have all basic essentials in a carry-on, plus some across other carry-on bags. I have a back up of everything, plus the insulin we will need with me.
I have one bigger carry on that is on wheels. This one goes in the overhead compartment. We also have a backpack that holds our immediate needs and hypo supplies that we put under the seat in front of us so we can easily access those. If there is turbulence on a plane, or if you are on a train, it is so much easier to have that sorted before the ride gets bumpy.
Never check insulin, and always keep it in a safe, temperature-controlled place. If I am in a country where I have travelled to, or I know that I can buy more insulin easily there, I may take less. It will really depend on my level of comfort with the place and how much we are on the go.
Bring a pack that stays cool to carry your insulin.
Check out our article about traveling with insulin. We’re reviewing different types of insulin travel coolers and showing you how to make your own one!
Diabetes: no two are alike!
Does it sound like a lot? It is. And you probably have more that you could personally add to this list because well, diabetes – no two are alike! But I hope that this give you some inspiration for how to start to pack.
While we are quite used to this routine now, I long for the days of packing for a week with only a small luggage, but I know that is not really ever likely. And if I am honest, I am probably not that efficient of a packer anyway. Perhaps those carefree airport entrances only exist in movies.
The amount of the unexpected that could happen is endless. We cannot predict the future, so it is impossible to manage our way out of all of it.
We have had our share of diabetes travel bloopers. I have forgotten insulin in other countries, we have had stomach viruses, bad insulin, and insulin pumps submerged in the sea just to name a few.
And while some of these were quite challenging at the time, we got through them. As we did that, my son learned some valuable lessons in managing whatever diabetes throws at him. I hope that these incidents will prepare him for when he wants to travel without his parents, as he gets older. If you love to travel, or are curious to travel, never think that diabetes can stop you or your child from doing it.
My son learned some valuable lessons in managing whatever diabetes throws at him. If you love to travel, never think that diabetes can stop you or your child from doing it.
The unexpected… It happens. It can happen at any time, on any given day. It is usually when it is most inconvenient. In those cases, we do our best. We deal with it and learn from it. The bigger the unexpected incident, the more we learn, and the more confident we have become for the next trip.
It all sounds stressful and scary, but honestly, most trips are pretty uneventful in a diabetes context.What I can assure you is that the beauty that you will experience, the people that you will meet and the memories that you will make are all worth the preparation and effort.
The beauty that you will experience, the people that you will meet and the memories that you will make are all worth the preparation and effort.
Pamela Durant is the mother of a child with Type 1 Diabetes. Her son was diagnosed in 2009 when he was only 20-months old. Despite 15 years of international healthcare management and consulting experience, the diagnosis led Pam through a steep learning curve about managing the condition.
As she began to advocate and present at medical conferences, she soon recognized that her experience could potentially help others navigate the fear and confusion of the condition. In 2016, she left a successful corporate career that included working for one of the “Big 4” and a top Fortune 500 company to create DiapointMEto help those touched by diabetes. She currently lives in Dubai, UAE with her family and two cats. She has travelled to over 20 countries with her son across four continents since his diagnosis. She is also the creator of My Diabetes School Journal.
You’ve developed your own diabetes supplies packing methods? You’ve trekked the Himalayas with diabetes? You’re a diabetic diver? Or you’ve recently traveled to Greece with diabetes?
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